Pals in a Pandemic
Teens reach out to lonely seniors in their community
How many high schoolers have secured grants and then spearheaded volunteer projects to help people in need?
Michael Mandel, a twelfth grader in Toronto, has already done it a few times.
He’s the type of student who is always busy with a project. Months ago, he was leading his local CTeen (Chabad Teen Network) chapter in an effort to deliver personal protective equipment and food packages to people in need. He secured a grant from the government to cover the costs, and the group was able to help 20 people.
Now, he’s helping isolated seniors.
Mandel and his CTeen friends decided to tackle the extreme loneliness being felt by the seniors in his community. “There are so many people who are homebound and socially isolated and it’s really affecting them,” he says. “I know my own grandfather hasn’t been able to meet up with friends in so long. We used to attend services together, now we can’t see each other.”
The teen decided to take action. With the help of his CTeen rabbi, Benny Kamchaji, and peers, Mandel secured a grant to support isolated seniors.
This time, it was from Rising Youth, a program that helps youth develop life skills by giving back to their communities. He originally applied for $750, but the program was so impressed with Mandel’s plan that they gave him twice the requested amount. With the money, the teens bought ten computer tablets, distributed them to elderly and homebound members of the community, and the “Senior Pals Program” was born.
“Now they can speak to friends and family from the safety of their own home,” he says.
But the teens went further. They taught the seniors how to use the devices and arranged Zoom events for them to attend. They regularly call the seniors, some of whom are Holocaust survivors, to check in and chat. For a virtual Hanukah party, the teens dropped off packages of traditional holiday food, literature, greeting cards and a Bingo board to play during the virtual event. Fourteen seniors and seven teens logged on. “It was beautiful to see them interact so easily and enjoy a nice evening together,” says Rabbi Kamchaji. They’re planning on bringing on a magician for the upcoming virtual Purim party.
The future of Senior Pals includes plans for the teens to interview their new friends. “There’s so much the teens could learn from their elders,” says Kamchaji, “and there’s so much they can give back.” Mandel says the group is learning how to ask good questions from a professional interviewer.
He credits CTeen with inspiring him to volunteer and help others. “The members of CTeen are my friends, my social circle,” says Mandel, “and the whole mission of CTeen is to help other people and spread some light. They’re always pushing us to do more, to make a difference.”
Kamchaji asserts that Mandel is a true leader for their local chapter. “He is always urging his friends to do more, to get more involved in Judaism. He’s always thinking up new initiatives. We’ll miss him when he graduates, but he’s already thinking up a CTeen Alumni program.”
“It’s a mitzvah,” Mandel said simply. “And that’s important to me. It’s what CTeen is about.”
This Sunday, Feb. 21, CTeen will be hosting the “UpLyft Mega-Event,” the closing ceremony of their Virtual Global Teen Summit, to encourage teens to reach out and make a difference in their communities. Watch live at chabad.org/UpLyft.